Child Labour in India

The future of a community is in the well being of its children. The above fact is beautifully expressed by Wordsworth in his famous lines “child is father of the man”. So it becomes imperative for the health of a nation to protect its children from premature labor which is hazardous to their mental, physical, educational and spiritual development needs. It is urgently required to save children from the murderous clutches of social injustice and educational deprivation, and ensure that they are given opportunities for healthy, normal and happy growth.

The venerable Indian poet Rabindranth Tagore has said time and again, that every country is absolutely bound by its duty to provide free primary education to its children. It is important to remember that industrialization can afford to wait but youth cannot be captured for long. It is imperative that the basic tenet made in article 24 of the Indian constitution – prohibiting the employment of any child below fourteen years of age, in a factory, mine or any other hazardous employment be stopped – be adhered to.

There should be no ambiguity in ensuring the right of every child to free basic education and the promise of the constitution should be fully implemented in the here and now. Projects related with human resource development, dedicated to the child welfare issues must be given top priority by the central and state governments to stop the menace of child labor. Child labor laws need to be strictly implemented at the central and state levels. Corruption and negligence in child labor offices and employee circles should be dealt with very strictly by the judiciary and the police force.

Child labourers are exploited, exposed to hazardous work conditions and paid a pittance for their long hours of work. They belong to the unorganized labour force.

The Constitution of India says that: (a) No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any hazardous employment (Article 24) (b) Childhood and youth are to be protected against exploitation and against moral and material aban¬donment (Article 39 (f)). (c) The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of 10 year from the commencement of the Constitution free and compulsory education for all children until they have completed the age of 14 years (Article 45. A survey conducted by a research group sponsored by the Ministry of Labour, Government of India (Joshi, 1986) has reported that of the estimated 102.3 million households in the country, 34.7% had working children.

Seventy nine per cent working children are in the rural areas. Two thirds of the working children belong to the 12-15 years age-group and the rest are below 12 years. A survey conducted by the Operations Research Group (ORG) Baroda (Vadodara) in 1985 had put the figure of working children at 44.5 million.

The first Act to regulate the employment of children and their hours of work was the Factory Act of 1881. A Commission was established in 1929 to fix the minimum age of child employment, on whose recommendation, the Child Labour Act 1933 was passed prohibiting employment of children below 14 yeas of age.

The Factory Act of 1948 provided some safeguards to child labourers. In 1986, the Parliament enacted the Child Labour Act (Regulation and Prohibition), planning the employment of children in certain jobs and regulating the condition of work in hazardous occupations.

The Juvenile Justice Act came into force on October 2, 1987 after superseding different Children's Act of different States/UTs.India has ratified six ILO conventions relating to labour and three of them as early as in the first quarter of the 20th century. Through a Notification dated 27 January 1999, the Schedule to the Child Labour (Prohibi¬tion and Regulation) Act, 1986, has been substantially enlarged bringing the total number of occupations and processes listed in the Schedule 13 and 51 respectively.

The National Policy on Child Labour was formulated in 1987 which enforces legal actions to protect the interests of children, makes development programmes for the benefit of child labour and projects based plan of action in the areas of high concentration of child labour. National Child Labour Projects (NCLP) has been set up to rehabilitate child labour.The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in their meeting on January 20, 1999 approved continuance of the scheme of National Child Labour Project (NCLP) during the Ninth Plan.

The CCEA also approved the increase in the number of such projects from 76 to 100.The Government's commitment to address the problem of child labour is reflected in the statement of National Agenda for Governance (1998), where it says that no child should remain illiterate, hungry/lack medical care and that measures will be taken to eliminate child labour.

The Supreme Court of India in its judgement dated December 10, 1986 has directed to pay compensation of Rs 20,000 by the offending employers for every child employed in hazardous occupations. Efforts will be made to modify the existing National Child Labour Project under the Ninth Plan.

The development needs of growing children can only be provided for, by stopping the onerous practice of child labor in organized and non organized sectors with utmost sincerity. This is the only way a nation can train its children to be wholesome future citizens, who are happy and prosperous. The provision of equal and proper opportunities for the educational needs of growing children in accordance with constitutional directives will go a long way in stopping the evil practice of child labor.

Concerned about the future of its children India has implemented a country- wide ban recently, on children below fourteen working in the hospitality sector and as domestics. It is intended that those who are found to violate the law will be fined with Rs. 20,000 and sent into rigorous imprisonment for two years. Children are not allowed to work in mines, factories and other hazardous jobs already.

Two more professions have been added in a list of fifty seven occupations which were considered hazardous for a child’s development needs in the ‘child labor act’ passed in 1986. Childs rights activists are waxing eloquent in high pitched voices about the absolute importance of stopping child labor. But legislation in this regard is just like an intention.

It is more important to take development measures to ensure its practical application by eliminating the reasons of child labor from our society.

The reasons giving birth to child labor are poverty, illiteracy, scarcity of schools, ignorance, socially regressive practices, blind customs and traditions, migration and last but not the least corruption amongst employees and government labor organizations. People should not be able to get away with employing and exploiting children.